Branson’s Autobiography Part II: A Bad Day at Koehn Lake

SpaceShipTwo breaks up after the premature deployment of its feather system. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 2 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.


Update on Blue Origin New Shepard Flight

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through Wednesday. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News

Below is an update on Blue Origin’s New Shepard program based on their tweets.

Jeff Ashby
Chief of Mission Assurance
Blue Origin

  • Flawless New Shepard flight test last week
  • First commercial flight under a launch license issued by FAA — allows Blue Origin to collect revenues (unlike previous experimental permit)
  • New vehicle incorporates lessons learned from earlier flight test program that finished in October 2016
  • Roughly one year away from New Shepard human flight tests, 18-24 months from flights with human-tended payloads
  • Waiting until the commercial service version of the system is flying to sell tickets for New Shepard flights
  • Capsule has full environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) and triple redundancy as well as pusher escape system
  • New Shepard flights will have about three minutes of microgravity
  • 5 G’s peak experienced during reentry
  • Proprietary landing system provides a soft landing for capsule and its occupants and experiments
  • One day of training required that will include mission simulation and emergency egress instruction
  • Centrifuge training at NASTAR will not required for New Shepard flights
  • Flight will be conducted early in morning due to calmer winds at that time
  • Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Al Worden have expressed interest in flying
  • System designed to be rapidly reusable
  • Takes about two weeks to turn around New Shepard for relaunch
  • Goal is to reduce turnaround to one week with 20 operational personnel
  • Blue Origin landed a booster from space first (before SpaceX)
  • Watching a rocket land is even cooler than watching them launch
  • Shift from “used” rockets to “flight proven” has been a good thing
  • New Glenn orbital rocket will have 7-meter payload to accommodate larger payloads

UTMB, NASTAR Team for Spaceflight Passenger Research

Centrifuge used for pilot and passenger training. (Credit: NASTAR)
Centrifuge used for pilot and passenger training. (Credit: NASTAR)

GALVESTON, Texas (UTMB PR) – People have dreamed of traveling to space and gazing back at earth since the dawn of time, but until recently space travel has been something reserved for a select few, mainly astronauts. Now with the advent of commercial suborbital space travel, that opportunity is closer than ever before for everyday citizens.


Virgin Galactic Finds Patience Wearing Thin

Richard Branson chats with David Letterman (Credit: CBS Television)
Richard Branson chats with David Letterman (Credit: CBS Television)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

While Richard Branson’s recent appearances on U.S. TV shows have undoubtedly helped him to sell many copies of his new book, The Virgin Way, the British billionaire unintentionally stirred up a hornet’s nest in the process.

On “The Late Show With David Letterman,” Branson revealed that SpaceShipTwo’s first commercial flight — which he will take with his son, Sam —  has been delayed from the end of this year until February or March 2015 at the earliest.


A Closer Look at the UK’s Commercial Space Review

Following the release of the document, “UK Government Review of Commercial Spaceplane Certification and Operations: Summary and Conclusions,” almost all media attention focused on one element of the report: the 8 candidate sites for the nation’s first spaceport.

This laser focus is easy to understand. The fierce, tooth-and-nail competition to land some big government project will be fun to watch. And spaceports are super cool. Well, they are when space planes are actually flying to space. When like a decade goes by with people promising imminent spaceflights without a single one taking place, spaceports become a lot less cool.  (I’m looking at you…everybody in Mojave!)

But, I digress. I went through the 80-page document and the 321-page technical report its based on so you don’t have to. Why would I do this? Because you guys are the best! You’re very welcome.

Key excerpts follow with commentary as appropriate. Read away!


Astronauts4Hire and NASTAR Center Announce Partnership

A4H_logo_white_transparentTampa, Florida (A4H PR) – Astronauts4Hire and the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR®) Center are proud to announce that they have signed a services agreement for NASTAR Center Space Training and to collaborate on developing new A4H-branded training programs for A4H’s commercial astronaut candidates.

A4H and the NASTAR Center will work together to develop A4H-specific training courses for astronaut candidates interested in aiding researchers, payload developers, and spaceflight providers with mission planning and operations support during spaceflight missions.


NASTAR Offers Two-Day Basic Space Training Course

Southampton, PA (NASTAR PR) – The NASTAR® Center, the premier commercial aerospace training and research center in the world, restructures its most popular space training course with updated material and content to better prepare upcoming commercial spaceflight participants for space. The course prepares prospective spaceflight participants for the acceleration forces, vibrations, sights, sounds, and expectations involved during coming commercial spaceflights.

Basic Space Training is an entry-level, two-day course which provides the core knowledge and skills necessary to introduce space travelers to suborbital spaceflight. Through a combination of academic instruction, hands-on exercises, and realistic simulated space flight exposures, participants will become safe, confident, and capable space passengers.


NASTAR Passes FAA Safety Audit

ETC PR — Environmental Tectonics Corporation’s The NASTAR® Center, the premier commercial aerospace training and research center, completed its first annual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Safety Approval audit and inspection on June 2nd, 2011, for the continued use of the Space Training Simulator (STS-400) centrifuge for its Space Training Programs. The audit continues NASTAR Center’s FAA Safety Approval for another year.


New NASTAR Foundation to Bring Excitement of Space to Public

ETC PR – Southampton, PA, USA. May 19, 2011 – Environmental Tectonics Corporation’s (OTC Bulletin Board: ETCC.PK) (“ETC” or the “Company”) announces the formation of the NASTAR Foundation, a non-profit organization that fosters opportunities for people of all ages to experience the excitement of aerospace exploration.

Core focus areas of the NASTAR Foundation are to:

* Inspire, facilitate, and grow public awareness and participation in aviation and space activities
* Enhance workforce development through life-long learning opportunities
* Support innovative programs that improve science, technology, engineering mathematics (STEM) education
* Facilitate theoretical and applied research to meet the needs of the aerospace industry
* Advance health & safety through the creation of medical and training standards for the commercial space industry


CSF on NASTAR Astronaut Training: We Like It!

CSF PR — The National Aerospace Training and Research Center (NASTAR) in Southampton, PA, a member of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, welcomed last week its latest set of future scientist-astronauts and educator-astronauts for training. Participants are training to conduct scientific research while flying onboard commercial suborbital spacecraft such as those operated by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, XCOR Aerospace, and Armadillo Aerospace.


NASTAR Conducts Tests for Human-Rated Atlas V


The NASTAR® Center, the premier commercial space training and research center in the world, has completed the initial phase of a research effort focused on commercial human spaceflight and systems development related to emergency detection and response using an Atlas V flight profile, under a contract with Special Aerospace Service (SAS) on August 16, 2010.


NASTAR Completes Third Round of Training for Commercial Astronauts


The NASTAR® Center, the premier commercial space training and research center in the world, completed its third Suborbital Scientist Training Class this year. The Suborbital Scientist Training Program provides researchers with hands-on space flight physiology training to prepare them to design and perform experiments on suborbital vehicles. Eight (8) researchers from U.S. universities, including a NASA astronaut candidate, successfully completed the three-day course held August 2-4th, 2010.


USRA Scientists Complete Astronaut Researcher Training

USRA scientists in front of the centrifuge used for the suborbital flight simulations at The NASTAR Center. From left to right are Dr. Joanne Hill, Dr. Ramona Gaza, and Dr. Scott Wood.
USRA scientists in front of the centrifuge used for the suborbital flight simulations at The NASTAR Center. From left to right are Dr. Joanne Hill, Dr. Ramona Gaza, and Dr. Scott Wood.


Three scientists with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) successfully underwent training this week to gain familiarization with human suborbital spaceflight. Dr. Joanne E. (Joe) Hill, an astrophysicist with USRA working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Dr. Scott J. Wood and Dr. Ramona Gaza, both with USRA’s Division of Space Life Sciences which carries out work for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, participated in the first such course being offered by the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center (The NASTAR Center). The two-day course ranged from altitude training and high-performance centrifuge training to learning about the industry and the opportunity to perform low-cost, hands-on projects in space. Research experiments that will take advantage of the coming era of commercial human spaceflight are already in development.


Suborbital Research Scientists Complete Training at NASTAR


January 14, 2010

Showcasing the growing interest in conducting research and education missions aboard commercial suborbital spacecraft, eleven researchers including members of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) successfully completed a training program yesterday at The National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center in Pennsylvania.


MIT Student Wins NASTAR Suborbital Scientist Mission Patch Contest



Environmental Tectonics Corporation’s (OTC Bulletin Board: ETCC) (“ETC” or the “Company”) the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR(®)) Center congratulates today the winner of the NASTAR Student Patch Design Contest, Tatsuya Arai, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. Tatsuya’s design has become the new Official Patch for The NASTAR Center’s Suborbital Scientist-Astronaut Training Program, debuting this week, January 12-13th, 2010.